We are all under pressure to do more with less. We don't
always have the luxury of as much time, personnel, equipment and
money to do things the way we would prefer. While this may be an
economic reality for business, it's important to remember that
your obligations under work health and safety (WHS) law have not
changed to accommodate economic need. The outcome: we need to
achieve the same result with fewer resources.
Careful planning is critical to minimise the risks that can
arise when people are faced with the pressure of deadlines and
tight budgets. This will enable proper consideration of the
equipment, skills and experience needed to do the job. It will
facilitate a risk assessment of the work to be done and how those
risks can be eliminated or controlled. Additionally, planning will
give you the time you need to source equipment and personnel from
reputable suppliers who will help you meet your WHS obligations.
Proper planning will also help you to assess how much time is
really needed to do the work, and to manage the work to meet that
timeframe. Where timeframes are short, planning will help you to
eliminate inefficiency from the project or task, increasing the
opportunity of meeting the deadline safely.
Businesses must continue to send the message
that shortcuts are not acceptable and that the safety requirements
of the company are not to be compromised.
Distraction and inattention
As businesses adjust their workforce to respond to the current
economic pressures, it is common for workers to take on additional
roles. As staff members are lost, their workload is shared among
those remaining. This increase in job pressures and the need to
juggle several tasks could lead to distraction and a loss of
attention to detail. This often results in poor planning, poor
implementation, missed deadlines or non-compliance with the
businesses' safety objectives, processes and targets.
When under pressure, it is tempting to take shortcuts. This
could mean skipping important steps in the task or planning phase,
or selecting people or equipment that are not suitable for the work
to be undertaken. In many cases, taking a shortcut comes out of a
desire to please, to want to get the job done, and to meet the
timeframes and budget restrictions. But beware: the effects of this
can be fatal.
Lack of supervision
Quality supervision is critical to managing the WHS risks
associated with shortcuts, poor planning or implementation of safe
work practices. It is important that supervisors are not so
stretched that they no longer have the time to effectively
supervise, and that they are not too distracted that they cannot
properly assess the work being supervised.
All too often the paper trail suffers when we are under pressure
and faced with time or resource constraints. However, the
importance of good documentation cannot be understated. When
something goes wrong, it is the paperwork that can provide evidence
of the quality, detail and planning of the work.
This could include evidence of the level of skill and experience
of the workers involved, the training that was provided to them and
the instructions given to them on the relevant work activity.
Further, this paperwork may also form part of the due diligence
of those who have director duties or hold officer positions within
the organisation. Without this paperwork, the memory of those
involved in the planning or the work itself will be all you have to
rely on as evidence. This is risky, as WHS questions and
investigations tend to come up years after the event, and are often
about something that was a routine part of their day, making it
difficult to remember.
What should businesses do?
Businesses must continue to send the message that shortcuts are
not acceptable and that the safety requirements of the company are
not to be compromised. They must provide enough resources for
proper and quality supervision to take place and foster a workplace
culture that supports timely planning and uses it as an opportunity
to promote WHS and efficiency.
Businesses must keep their paperwork up to date. This will equip
them with the information they need to better defend the company
and their staff in the event of an incident, and to minimise their
legal exposure. Good paperwork may also help to demonstrate to the
regulator why a prosecution is not in the public interest and
should not be commenced.
On the flip side, failing to address and minimise these risks
has the potential to increase your company's legal exposure and
therefore financial pressure. Legal action and investigations can
result in significant monetary penalties, legal fees as well as the
potential loss of future work.
WHS management is an expense, but the business will benefit far
more from a proactive spend in WHS than in post-incident WHS
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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